Friday, 22 October 2010

Nice Characters

There's been an article in the Guardian about the need for "nice" characters in novels, and how this is stultifying novel writing, as authors try to ward off the dreaded "I didn't like any of the characters" response from readers.

The writer of the article seems to think that not liking the characters equates to a desire for blandness, but I think that's missing the point. People actually like the sparky, the different, the unusual, the original. They like strong, vibrant characters - the very opposite to bland. Those characters can be seriously unpleasant, if they do it in a interesting or entertaining way.

I've recently read a novel where I didn't like the main characters at all. But not because they weren't nice - oh no, they were relentlessly nice in a rather smug, self-satisfied way. The only character I did like was the difficult, awkward sister, who actually seemed to have some personality about her.

We like to read about characters who are bigger than we are, who do the things we only dream of, who don't conform to the rules. Hannibal Lecter may eat your liver given half a chance, but he's also witty, cultured, intelligent and loyal. Non-confrontational we can do at home. Give us Scarlett O'Hara vowing never to be hungry again, and then going out and making sure it happens.

Nice characters? Not really. Characters we like to read about? Absolutely.


womagwriter said...

So true! Characters in novels are there to interest and entertain you, not to be your best mates.

Sarah Duncan said...

Though sometimes you wish they were your best mates. I've always fancied living in Damerosehay with Lucilla (Elizabeth Goudge fans will know what I mean).